Rain began falling on the Greater Denver area the evening of Saturday, May 5, 1973, and continued through most of Sunday, May 6. Below about 7,000 feet altitude, the precipitation was mostly rain; above that altitude, it was mostly snow. Although the rate of fall was moderate, at least 4 inches of rain or as much as 4 feet of snow accumulated in some places. Sustained precipitation falling at a moderate rate thoroughly saturated the ground and by midday Sunday sent most of the smaller streams into flood stage. The South Platte River and its major tributaries began to flood by late Sunday evening and early Monday morning.
Geologic and hydrologic processes activated by the May 5-6 storm caused extensive damage to lands and to manmade structures in the Greater Denver area. Damage was generally most intense in areas where man had modified the landscape--by channel constrictions, paving, stripping of vegetation and topsoil, and oversteepening of hillslopes. Roads, bridges, culverts, dams, canals, and the like were damaged or destroyed by erosion and sedimentation. Streambanks and structures along them were scoured. Thousands of acres of croplands, pasture, and developed urban lands were coated with mud and sand. Flooding was intensified by inadequate storm sewers, blocked drains, and obstructed drainage courses. Saturation of hillslopes along the Front Range caused rockfalls, landslides, and mudflows as far west as Berthoud Pass. Greater attention to geologic conditions in land-use planning, design, and construction would minimize storm damage in the future.